December 30, 2009

New Year's Art

In preparation for the new year, I looked at some old newspapers to see what the front page held on January firsts past. In my brief survey, I found several treatments of the Old Father Time and the baby New Year theme:

Ringing in the New Decade - January 1, 1900
The Chicago Tribune 1 January 1900

The Chicago Tribune Rings in the New Year - 1911
The Chicago Tribune 1 January 1911

A Happy New Year 1922 - The Atlanta Constitution
The Atlanta Constitution 1 January 1922

Poughkeepsie Journal - New Years 1924 Edition
The Poughkeepsie Journal 1 January 1924

And then I came across this very odd image from the San Francisco Chronicle of 1 January 1920
Happy New Year 1920 from the San Francisco Chronicle
I'm not sure who these people are, but they seem happy about starting the 20s.

It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of the Happy New Year messages with the sensational and generally negative headlines on the front pages.

Most of the papers gathered stories of tragedy, murder and death from around the country to spice up the front page, which probably worked on most days, but seem a little out of place on a page with Happy New Year emblazoned across the top of it.

That 1920 San Francisco Chronicle is a good example. Headlines sharing the front page with the strange New Year's revelers include:
  • "35 Poison 'Rum' Cases Bared by S.F. Officials"
  • "Hunter Drowned, Companion Near Death as Result of Boat Mishap"
  • "Poison Whisky Factory Found, Officers Say"
  • "Woman Plunges Knife to Hilt in Man Refusing to Clear Her Name"
  • "Shots Fired at Police Captain"
  • "U.S. Building is Set on Fire"
  • "Four Scalded to Death in Steamer Explosion"
  • "3 Motorists Hurt in Jitney Collision"
  • "Four Women Shot by Baltimore Celebrants"
Happy New Year in deed. Here's hoping 2010 rings in on a better note.

December 7, 2009

Remembering Pearl Harbor

This urgent radiogram to "All ships present at Hawaiin Area" announced the December 7, 1941 attack on the US Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbor:
WWII Pearl Harbor attack radiogram

The surprise attack damaged all eight battleships anchored in the harbor and caused over 3,000 American casualties.
Pearl Harbor 13.JPG

1,177 died on the USS Arizona and are remembered with a memorial that was built over the top of the still visible remains of the battleship which lies at the bottom of the harbor.

The memorial includes a wall with the names of those killed on the Arizona in 1941 and a place for those who have died since and had their remains "interred with their shipmates."
page; Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona Memorial

On Footnote, you'll find an interactive image of the memorial wall where you can learn more about those who died or if you have images or stories about someone whose name appears, you can add them.

The day after the attack, President Franklin D Roosevelt delivered his famous "Day of Infamy" speech to Congress. In his speech, Roosevelt asked Congress to declare that, since the attack on Pearl Harbor, a state of war had existed between the United States and the Empire of Japan. You can hear the full six and a half minute speech on this Wikipedia page.

Within an hour of the speech, Congress passed a formal declaration of war which Roosevelt signed, bringing the United States into World War II.
Page 1; Selected Photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1913-1945

In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, Footnote is making their WWII collection free during December. You can read more on the Footnote Blog or see the World War II collection here.

December 4, 2009

The Gunboat Philadelphia

The National Museum of American History's website has this nice page about the Continental Gunboat Philadelphia.

The Gunboat Philadelphia is the oldest surviving American fighting vessel. Built in 1776, it was sunk in Lake Champlain during a naval battle with the British in the same year. The Continental Congress authorized the building of this 54 foot, 29-ton gunboat and eight other similar vessels for the defense of the Champlain Valley - the northern frontier of the colonies considered the key to the success or failure of the American Revolution. In the summer of 1776, under the leadership of the charismatic and controversial Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, Philadelphia and her sister-ships were hurriedly organized into what historians consider “the first American Navy.”
Here's the page from Transcript Journals of the Continental Congress (part of the Papers of the Continental Congress) where congress resolves, "that the president write to governor Cooke requesting him to order fifty ship carpenters to be engaged on the best terms at the expense of the continent and sent to general Schuyler at Albany as soon as possible, in order to build vessels for the defense of the lakes."
Continental Congress hires carpenters "to build vessels for the defense of

You can find some nice pictures of the Philadelphia here and more information about the history of the ship here.

December 3, 2009

UFO Sightings

Today's Document of the Day from NARA is UFO report from the Project Blue Book files.

Here's the image on Footnote where you'll find the other 31 pages of the report:
Page 5; Project Blue Book, 1947-1969

Project Blue Book is full of interesting and mundane reports. Names of people reporting the sightings have been redacted, so you aren't likely to find out if your mother reported a flying saucer, but it's interesting to see the kinds of things that were reported, the way the government collected the data and in many cases, the way they explained the various sightings.

Here are a few other interesting reports from Project Blue Book.

A first hand report of the Flat Woods Monster,
Page 17; Project Blue Book, 1947-1969

A "Special Report on Conferences with Astronomers on Unidentified Aerial Objects,"
Page 39; Project Blue Book, 1947-1969

And the occasional picture of an unidentified flying object:
new york agosto 67

UFO or Photographic anomaly?

I don't know that you'll find proof of alien life in Project Blue Book, but looking for it can be a lot of fun.

December 2, 2009


I meant to post a few tidbits from the history of Thanksgiving last week, but I just never had the time. Here you go, a little late and hoping you had a nice holiday...

The Poughkeepsie Journal publishes President George Washington's declaration of "a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer"
George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation - 1789

The Chicago Tribune prints President Abraham Lincoln's declaration of the last Thursday in November 1863 "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
Proclamation of the President - Thanksgiving 1863

The December 27, 1941 Poughkeepsie Journal reports on President Franklin D Roosevelt (who in the years previous had moved Thanksgiving earlier to extend the Christmas shopping season) signing a law designating the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Officially Returned to the Fourth Thursday

And here are some folks from the National Turkey Growers Association presenting President Harry Truman with a Thanksgiving turkey, November 16, 1949.
Page 52; Select List of Photographs of Harry S. Truman, 1885-1953

November 20, 2009

Using Revolutionary War Pension Files

A nice post on the NARAtions blog today discusses the value of pension files and links to an interesting example from Footnote.

William Graham was 64 years old when he submitted this document in support of his Revolutionary War pension application in 1820. The pension laws in effect then required him to prove not only his service, but also his need for monetary support. The inventory seen here lists his personal property.

Page 8; Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files

November 19, 2009

Remembering the Gettysburg Address

Today is the 146th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

This brief speech contains what may be Abraham Lincoln's most memorable mistake, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."

Page 1; American Milestone Documents

Page 2; American Milestone Documents

Here's my transcription of this early draft:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal."

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us... that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

It's interesting to compare this with the address Lincoln gave (here's the version on the Lincoln Memorial) and see how he worked through the details.

November 11, 2009

World War I Ends - November 11, 1918

On November 11, 1918, Germany agreed to the terms of an armistice ending World War 1.

Here are a few newspaper pages reporting the end of the war:
Great War Ends
The Chicago Tribune Nov 11, 1918

Germans Sign Armistice World War Comes to End
The Atlanta Constitution - Nov 11, 1918

Great War Over
San Francisco Chronicle Nov 11, 1918

Armistice signed ending World War I - 1918
Washington Post Nov 12, 1918

The Armistice Signed
The Times (London) - Nov 12, 1918

NARA Asks for Input on Motion Picture File Formats

Today, on the NARAtions blog, the folks at the National Archives are asking how we would like them to make their motion picture archives available.

I'm hoping for a streaming solution and one that will make them embeddable. Be sure to give them your input.

In celebration of Veterans Day, here's a WWII news reel from NARA's collection:

November 6, 2009

D W Griffith's The Birth of a Nation

D W Griffith's epic 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, is widely considered Hollywood's first blockbuster.

The movie, which alternates between intimate family shots and grand battle scenes with thousands of actors, includes everything from love scenes to the burning of Atlanta. It introduced new film techniques, and cost the equivalent of over 2 million dollars to make.

This 1915 ad from the Poughkeepsie Journal calls it, "The greatest dramatic narrative of the century" and claims that the film has been "Seen by Over Five Million People."
1915 Ad for D W Griffith's Epic The Birth of a Nation

Admission to the film was $2 (equivalent to about $44 today) and theaters were sold out for days. Here's a December 12, 1915 review in the Atlanta Constitution that describes the "clamors of hundreds turned away."

In this article, Griffith justifies the ticket price and predicts future movie prices as high as $5.

The plot, which is based on Thomas Dixon's novel and play The Clansman (the film was originally released under that title), follows two families, one from the North and the other from the South, before, during and after the Civil War and depicts the Ku Klux Klan rising from the chaos of reconstruction to establish order in the post-war South.

By modern standards, parts of the film are melodramatic and overdone to the point of silliness, but Griffith used all the tools available to him to create a spectacle that moved audiences in 1915 and is still powerful today.

Even in its own day, critics blasted the historical inaccuracies and racist nature of the film. The inflammatory narrative lead to violence against African-Americans and rioting in some locations and several major cities canceled performances of the film.

This 1915 review in the Poughkeepsie Journal focused on the spectacle of the show and concludes with, "The play is, as has often been said, rather partisan, and the reconstruction part very much overdrawn and exaggerated, but it furnishes a thrilling drama with the picturesque Ku Klux to the rescue."

In looking through other contemporary newspaper coverage of the film, it was interesting to see the way people responded to the movie. In some cases, it's hard to know what was hype and promotion and what were sincere expressions, but I was struck by statements like this one from a pre-performance article in the Poughkeepsie Journal extolling the "historical worth of this great spectacle."
"This realistic picture of history..." The Birth of a Nation

This two page ad in the Atlanta Constitution includes many endorsements, including one quoting "Prof. Richard A. Dobbie, Superintendent Norfolk City Schools" as saying, "The Birth of a Nation reproduces historical events with marvelous fidelity."

This ad/article, published before the movie came to Atlanta, mentions that three citizens requested the mayor ban the film and then quotes several people in support of it, including "Mrs. Frank Anthony Walke, president of the Norfolk chapter of the U. D. C." who said: "The Birth of a Nation is wonderful. There are a few things that are not agreeable, but to make history correct this has to be with the pleasant. ... It is a revelation and all southerners should see it and glory in its teachings."
Article or Advertisement?

I don't think many people today would consider using Griffith's film to teach history, but the Wikipedia article about it claims that, "As late as the 1970s, the Ku Klux Klan continued to use the film as a recruitment tool."

The Birth of a Nation is now in the public domain. In fact, you can watch it online in its entirety at the Internet Archive, here.

November 3, 2009

Civil War Photos Online

A friend at the office sent me a link to this site with a nice collection Civil War era photos from the Library of Congress.

I liked the photo of Lincoln's first inauguration against the backdrop of the Capitol dome under construction, this one of the Old Trinity church with the Capitol in the background and this one taken from the cemetery at Harper's Ferry.

This image of Richmond is particularly striking with the ruins of the Gallego Mills overlooking the river.

Here's a very similar picture that comes from NARA's recent project to put the Brady Photos on Flickr:
The two photos are almost identical, but there are a few small differences and judging from the left bank of the canal, the one from NARA seems to have been taken from a little farther back.

And here's another picture of Richmond's ruined mills from the NARA Photo Stream:
You'll find more information about Gallego mills here and a picture of them before the fire here.

October 19, 2009

Photos from the Coolidge Years

One of the fun things about Footnote is finding something interesting in a collection and then just getting lost in surrounding or related documents.

The other night, I got into the Calvin Coolidge photos and used the filmstrip at the bottom of the viewer to browse around.

The Coolidge photos were scanned from microfilm, which gives many of the images a striking, high contrast look which seems appropriate for this shot of Cecil B Demille working on his 1923 silent film, The Ten Commandments:
Cecil B Demille instructs Ramses (Charles de Rochefort) and Moses (Theodore Roberts)

Here are a few other interesting photos I came across.
A cheerful greeting from President Calvin Coolidge

Secretary of Agriculture Henry Cantwell Wallace in Chicago with "the champion canning club team"

President Coolidge as Chief Leading Eagle after being adopted as the first white chief of the Sioux Tribe

Major General James G Harbord and Brigadier General Charles G Dawes "deliver the goods" in Paris

Former President Coolidge, gone fishin'

October 17, 2009

Doctored Photos

Here's an interesting Time article about doctored photos starting with an example from the Brady Collection.

A while back, Blake found and interesting example of photo doctoring on Footnote.

Here's a picture of Omaha beach after the D-day invasions, scanned from a mounted card in NARA's image collection:
Page 44; Black and White and Color Photographs of U.S. Air Force and Predecessor Agencies...

The planes at the top add to the excitement, but it looks like they were added to the picture. Here's what appears to be the same picture, but without the planes flying overhead:
D-Day Omaha Beach June 1944.jpg

Update [Oct 21, 2009]: The New York Times is running a seven part series by Errol Morris exploring the manipulation of photos.

October 14, 2009

Cataloging a Stolen Heritage

As Allied forces made their way into Germany toward the close of World War II in Europe, US Zone Commanders were instructed to impound certain types of artifacts that the German Reich, Nazi Party and others had taken from individuals and institutions in Germany and countries they had occupied.

The army set up temporary collecting points for the various types of impounded items and then cataloged the collections as they tried to find out where things belonged.

At NARA, the records of these looted items are grouped as the “Ardelia Hall Collection” because Ardelia Hall, the US State Department’s Arts and Monuments Adviser worked extensively with the records from 1954 to 1961.

You can read more details about the collecting points, the process of sorting through the arifacts and the Ardelia Hall collection here.

The other day, I found some interesting things while poking around the Wiesbaden Property Cards from the Ardelia Hall Collection in Footnote's Holocaust Collection (the Ardelia Hall titles are included in a group called Holocaust Era Assets).

Most of the material at the Wiesbaden Collection point came from German holdings, like these from the Staatliche Museen in Berlin:

But, some of the works cataloged at Wiesbaden we presumed taken from other countries, like this work by Taesler which may have been from Russia :

Other works came from individuals, like this scene painted by Kobell which may have belonged to Siegfried Reiss:

In many cases, there was no way of knowing where the items came from and for some, the collectors had only a general idea of where the item belonged, as with this portrait by Poeckh, presumed to have a "Jewish Owner":

I don't know what they did with all the items they could not identify, but I came across several works with an note like the following:
"By order of Mr. Theodore A Heinrich Cult. Aff. Adviser Propert. Div. OEA HICOG. This object has been destroyed as being of no historical and arthistorical value."

Is the lack of historical or "arthistorical" value reason enough to destroy someone else's painting?

It made me wonder what Mr Theodore A Heinrich thought about as he ordered the destruction of these stolen pieces of the cultural heritage of nations and people who had suffered so many other tragedies at the hand of the Nazis. Sounds like a pretty tough job. There is more information about Mr Heinrich here.

This picture in particular, with the note, "Destroyed by order of the Director," struck me:

Who was she? Did she have a family? Did a concentration camp administrator order her destruction? Did Allied commanders order a bombing raid that destroyed her home? Was this the only picture there was of her?